A few moments after the pirouette, battery voltage suddenly plummeted and engineers said the end was near. Trapped between a rock and a dark place beyond its ability to survive, Philae dutifully sent back stored data and even made fresh measurements until finally, just after 7:30 p.m. (EST-5), contact was finally lost.
Trapped in rough, forbidding terrain with its solar panels draped in shadow, the Philae comet lander raced the clock Friday to carry out high-priority science operations, including an attempt to drill into the surface of the nucleus, before exhausting its on-board batteries and effectively losing consciousness.
A veteran cosmonaut, a German volcanologist and a Navy test pilot-turned-astronaut whose mastery of social media earned him — and NASA — a global following, bid their space station crewmates farewell and sealed the hatch of their Soyuz ferry craft, setting the stage for undocking and a fiery trip back to Earth to close out a 165-day stay aboard the International Space Station.
Just 13 seconds after Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo began a rocket-powered test flight — and just five seconds after its innovative aero-braking system was inadvertently deployed at supersonic speeds — the spaceplane apparently broke up, killing one pilot and injuring another, according to a National Transportation Safety Board timeline.
Space station astronaut Reid Wiseman, preparing to return to Earth this weekend after 165 days in orbit, said commercial spaceflight represents the “next breakthrough” in aerospace technology, and that he hopes Virgin Galactic can ultimately turn that dream into reality despite the fatal crash of the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane.